Legal Memorandum: Court's Power to Discipline Attorneys

Issue: Under the law of the Virgin Islands, does the court have the inherent power to discipline attorneys?

Area of Law: Ethics & Professional Responsibility, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Court's inherent power; Impose sanctions or discipline attorneys; Improper conduct
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: 757 F.2d 557; 686 A.2d 1275; 120 F.3d 368; 57 F.3d 1215
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 05/01/2004

The court has an inherent power to impose sanctions on a party and/or his or her attorney for improper conduct.  See In re Tutu Wells Contamination Litig., 120 F.3d 368 (3d Cir. 1997) (overruled by implication on other grounds) (court has inherent power to impose sanctions to parties that have suffered financially due to opponent’s misconduct, provided due process requirements are met). Attorney sanctions are particularly appropriate when the offending party’s conduct has resulted in additional costs to the judicial system or the adverse party.  Pontidis v. Shavelli, 686 A.2d 1275, 1277 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1997).  The court’s inherent powers are broad, although their permissible scope is “somewhat unclear.”  See Tutu Wells, 120 F.3d at 383. Generally, courts invoke their inherent powers "to regulate the conduct of the members of the bar as well as to provide tools for docket management."  Id. (quoting Eash v. Riggins Trucking Inc., 757 F.2d 557, 561 (3d Cir. 1985)).  The Supreme Court has stated that a court using its inherent powers may, among other things, discipline attorneys who appear before it, punish for contempt, dismiss a suit for failure to prosecute, and assess attorney’s fees.  Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43-46 (1991); accord Tutu Wells, 120 F.3d at 383.  Additionally, the court may assess a fine, disqualify counsel, preclude claims or defenses, and limit a litigant’s future access to the courts. Chambers, 501 U.S. at 43-46; Tutu Wells, 120 F.3d […]

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